Racism in Action: The January 6, 2021, Attack on the Capitol

Peace Advocate August 2022

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DC_Capitol_Storming_IMG_7951.jpg

by Rosemary Kean

In 2020, millions of Americans were involved in an antiracism protest sparked by the vicious police murder of George Floyd. This upsurge in antiracist awareness and action precipitated a predictable white supremacist backlash that BU Professor Philippe Copeland describes as a “racist relapse”.

The most violent manifestation of this relapse was the mob attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. It resulted in severe injuries to as many as 140 officers, members of the multiracial police force that was defending the Capitol building and the Congress. These police personnel suffered broken jaws, necks, noses, vertebrae, fingers, arms, and legs, as well as concussions and traumatic brain injuries. And these injuries were in addition to fatalities that day and suicides of officers in the days and weeks after the attack.  

Many leaders of the mob on January 6 were white supremacist and neo-nazi hate group members. The Washington Post, on January 15th, 2021, documented the many symbols of far right groups seen during the attack, including those of Q-Anon, the Proud Boys, the III Percenters, the Oath Keepers, the Betsy Ross flag (claimed because it existed prior to the time when women and people of color had voting or other rights), America First flags, nooses, and more. At least one man entered the Capitol waving a Confederate flag, apparently the first time in U.S. history that the Confederate flag had breached the Capitol, a dramatic statement of white political entitlement as racism energized the attempt to overthrow an election.

In last October’s Peace Advocate we considered another manifestation of the racist relapse,  the Republican misinformation campaign against critical race theory/CRT. This campaign is an attack on education, an attempt to prevent the “integration” of the history of slavery and Jim Crow into the annals of American history. BU’s Copeland quotes Frederick Douglass’ succinct comment, so applicable to white supremacist propaganda and political tactics of today: 

it is a frequent and favorite device of an indefensible cause to misstate and pervert the views of those who advocate a good cause.” 

Here in Boston, we have “Facists in our Front Yard.” Cynthia Silva Parker, a leader in the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign, writes about this in her article on the website of the Interaction Institute for Social Change. She points to the two appearances of the Patriot Front in Boston in the month of July and comments that white nationalist groups are “reproducing themselves”  as they offer “the allure of physical discipline, gun-toting machismo, community, and ideological unity” to young white men.

So, we have the racist energy of the January 6 attack on Congress, the anti-CRT campaign to stop schools from teaching the truth about racism, and the successful recruiting of white nationalist groups right here in our home state; and, in addition, we have continuing police murders, especially of young Black men.  We must ask: has the fire of the antiracism movement of 2020 been put out? If so, what can we do about it? What can Mass Peace Action do about it, on top of our other work for peace? How should the peace movement respond to an increase in racism?”

In fact, we are already doing something. Some of our MAPA issue-focused working groups use a racial justice lens in doing all their work, as does the Mass Progressive Action Organizing Committee. Moreover, many or most of our community partners, including the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC), Veterans for Peace, the New Democracy Coalition(NDC), Families for Justice As Healing (FJAH), Sunrise, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW), the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), place racial justice at the center of their work. Some of this work focuses on legislation that is unapologetically antiracist– for example, this year’s prison construction moratorium bill.

Election involvement this year will offer another avenue for antiracism action. Of course, the corruption of our political system by corporate interests has soured many of us, especially young people, on conceiving of elections as a mechanism for change. Our partner, the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign, is prioritizing voter outreach and turnout for the elections this year as a way to fight against racism, poverty, the war economy, religious nationalism, and ecological devastation, i.e. a program to “reconstruct our democracy”. The PPC maintains that “Our votes are not support, but demands.” Beth Howard, who is an antiracist organizer with Showing Up for Racial Justice, addresses the conflict about the usefulness of doing voter outreach in 2022 this way: “The right isn’t playing. Their goal is to take over all three branches of the U.S. government.” Let’s join Howard is encouraging election work this year to prevent a right wing takeover of the federal government.

Many Black leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and more recently the Black Lives Matter movement, have urged white people to organize in white communities. Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is a national organization that started in 2009 to organize white people for racial and economic justice campaigns. The SURJ slogan and organizing principle is “When We Fight Racism We All Win”. Erin Heaney, national director, explains that all SURJ organizing is around the idea that racism hurts everyone; she notes that  there have always been powerful multi-racial struggles which have included white folks, but “just not enough of us.”  

SURJ’s 175 chapters across the country are “giving white folks a better offer than white supremacy”. SURJ organizers see antiracist white people reaching out to young white men and women with an offer that is more attractive than the violence and machismo of white nationalist groups.  The movement is helped by white people speaking with white people about the power of working in solidarity with multiracial groups to achieve better lives for everyone. SURJ is now organizing texting to Georgia voters on voting for shared interests, not white supremacist interests.

Here at MAPA we understand that the white supremacist foreign policy goal of our government is to dominate the world both economically and militarily. We also know that this immoral policy, imbued with racism, is impoverishing our communities, devastating countries around the Earth, and degrading the environment and climate. As a largely white organization, we are well positioned to speak with white people about building, with our partners in the lead, a multiracial, antiracist majority that will overpower the U.S. tradition of belligerent foreign policy.

The January 6, 2021, attack can be a wake-up call.  “When we fight racism we all win.”

— Rosemary Kean is co-chair of Massachusetts Peace Action and co-convener of its Racial Justice/Decolonization Working Group